Napoli v Dnipro
Thursday May 07, 20:05
While Napoli haven’t met expectations in Serie A throughout the campaign, they are building some impressive end-of-season momentum. The Partenopei have lost just one of their last seven matches, and they have won five of the games in that sequence. That set of results includes a highly impressive 6-3 aggregate win over Wolfsburg in the Europa League quarter-finals.
Speculation about the future of coach Rafa Benitez continues to swirl in Naples, but if he delivers a second trophy in two seasons (Napoli won the Coppa Italia last year) then his hand will be strengthened in any negotiations, be that at Napoli or elsewhere.
Benitez certainly has an excellent track record in European football’s secondary cup competition, having previously won it with both Chelsea and Valencia. Bearing in mind that Benitez led an unlikely set of Liverpool heroes to Champions League glory in 2005 (Igor Biscan, Djimi Traore and Milan Baros, take a bow), it’s hard to escape the notion that Benitez is the master of the two-legged tie.
Napoli are winning games and scoring plenty of goals. They have netted 21 times in their last seven games, and it’s hardly a surprise when you look at the weapons at Benitez’ disposal. Gonzalo Higuain is a classy number nine with 26 goals to his name in all competitions. Marek Hamsik, Jose Callejon and January signing Manolo Gabbiadini form an excellent supporting cast, and have smashed in 43 goals between them.
Napoli have no fresh injury concerns, although former Swansea duo Michu and Jonathan De Guzman are still sidelined. I expect Benitez to employ his strongest possible line-up, with attack the order of the day against a Dnipro side that will try to shut up shop.
The Ukrainians are undoubtedly the competition’s surprise package. They squeaked beyond Ajax after extra-time in the last 16, and in an incredibly tight quarter-final, they scored the only goal of the tie with just eight minutes remaining.
Solid defending has got Dnipro this far. They have kept four clean sheets in six knockout matches, and they have managed seven shut-outs throughout the competition. The back four is a good unit, keeper Denys Boyko is an imposing figure, and experienced midfielder Ruslan Rotan acts as an effective screen for the defence. The attacking inspiration comes from the talented Yevhen Konoplyanka, who has been the subject of consistent interest from both Liverpool and Spurs.
Dnipro’s plan will be to batten down the hatches at the San Paolo and hope to still be in the tie when they return home for the second leg. Dnipro’s home form is excellent, but on the road they have won just one of their seven matches, and they have drawn a blank three times.
Brazilian left-back Egidio could return after injury, while midfielder Valeriy Fedorchuk is available after a ban. Roman Zozulya is injured, and forward Matheus faces a fitness test.
Dnipro have done superbly to get this far, but this feels like the end of the road. Napoli have really hit top form in the last few weeks, and they have won six of their seven home games in this season’s Europa League. Dnipro’s away form is patchy, and I suspect even their dogged defending won’t be enough to contain Higuain and company for 90 minutes.
The price of [1.39] for the home win is prohibitively short, but it can be boosted to [2.1] by backing the hosts -1.5 on the Asian Handicap. Napoli’s last seven wins have all been by a margin of two goals or more, and they will push hard for a big first-leg advantage.
Both Teams To Score?
Dnipro aren’t regular goalscorers on the road, and failed to hit the net in 90 minutes in both Amsterdam and Bruges. Their focus will be on defence in this one, so it would be sensible to back No in the Both Teams To Score market at [1.8], especially seeing as Napoli have kept three clean sheets in six Europa League home games.
Back Napoli -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at [2.1]
2014/15 Europa League P/L (1pt per bet)
Points Staked: 87
Points Returned: 86.8
P/L: -0.2 points